Pool Passes, Swimming and a Special Needs Mama Learning to Let Go

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Today’s story is about pool passes and summer swimming. It’s also about growing up and an overly cautious special needs mama who is learning to let go.

Kids in 11 feet deep water at the swimming pool
Kids at the swimming pool

Summer is our family’s favorite time of year. It’s a time to slow the pace and unplug: Vacation, camping, s’mores, and swimming to name a few favorite activities.

A rite of passage for many kids during the summer is getting a community pool pass.  It means spending long, slow days in the sun, splashing around with friends.  It’s a slice of independence. 

We are fortunate to live within a block of a community pool that’s surrounded by a park.  A pool with a giant slide and depths to 11 feet for jumping.  A pool my daughter insisted upon getting a pass for.

She loves to swim. During the school year, she does so as part of physical education.  She can keep her head above water, paddle around and jump into deeper waters.  Now that she’s a teen, she understands the safety rules, doesn’t run, and has general safety awareness. She’s even officially completed some of the Red Cross safety levels.

Given the supports she needs, my kiddo is rarely, if ever, alone.  But, this year, she wants a pool pass.  Not just a pool pass, but the ability to head off to the pool without mom.  My youngest chimes in, nodding her head in agreement. 

I want both of my kids to feel part of our community, and most of all, I want them to experience the great outdoors while the weather is nice.  Forget You Tube from an air conditioned house, get outside.  I confess that I also want to enclose my kids in a bubble of safety.  These roads intersect at learning to manage risk and teaching independence. 

Although I suppose that intersection is common among all parents, it’s a bit more nuanced when you’re the parent of an autistic and intellectually disabled kiddo.  There is a lot of planning involved, down to the type of swimsuit she’ll wear.  (Can she pull up a one-piece wet bathing suit independently if she needs to use the bathroom?  Or should we opt for a two-piece? How is she most comfortable?).  There’s also practice involved.  Like calling mom from her cell phone independently, and understanding who to ask for help. Then, there’s anxiety about social interactions.  (Will she be accepted by other kids?)  My fears are somewhat allayed knowing there’s lot of oversight and my youngest will be there to help navigate.

Off we went to the office and purchased summer pool passes, which are now key tags that link to my kiddos’ pictures and information.  (In contrast to the laminated paper passes of my youth). Subsequently, I inquired about their disability policy, which includes allowing those with disabilities to use the shallow pool (generally reserved for those younger than 7) if needed, and that a caregiver could accompany the person in any of the pools.

Next, a visit to the pool to learn the process for checking in, where to keep belongings, review of pool rules, and most important – location of the bathroom.  In addition, we got to know a few of the lifeguards, too.

One thing clearly absent at the pool – parents of teens and tweens.  Many kids walk over during the day, while parents are working to meet friends for a summer swim.  Remembering my childhood, I used to walk with my sister to the pool sans parents, but that was a loooonnnng time ago.

Jumping into the swimming pool
Kiddo jumping into the pool

At any rate, we gave it a try.  I dropped the kids off with passes, towels, phone, emergency contact info and sunscreen.  We agreed to a pick up time.  I may have grabbed a folding chair perfect for watching from afar. True confessions: I parked myself under a shady tree to make sure everything would go smoothly. (It did.)

Indeed, my kids stuck together, made new friends and enjoyed the pool.  The lifeguards remembered my kids from our tour the day prior, making small talk.  I saw smiles. And, I saw two kids who are independent enough to have a little (well-planned) time away from mom.

Maybe next time I’ll actually leave.

Confessions of a (Special needs) Middle School Mom

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  1. Wow, that is a big step! I don’t think I would have left the first visit either. But maybe next time. Kudos to you to help your daughter navigate this huge step and allow her to feel that independence. That is really awesome and must have been so difficult. I am glad that it went well and hope that she continues to have an excellent summer at the pool without mom!

  2. I think these are some of the hardest parenting decisions. When they’re young, almost all the control rests with you. When they’re old enough to be independent, so many variables that you can’t even foresee come into play. For me, some of the hardest stuff involves letting them drive on roads (themselves or with friends) that give me white knuckles when I drive them.

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